In an interesting discussion of the genetic structure of human populations, Jeremy Yoder weighs in on Nicholas Wade’s little book of racism.
So with all due respct to Sewall Wright, modern genetic data pretty clearly show that if aliens arrived tomorrow and started sequencing the DNA of planet Earth, they would probably not sort Homo sapiens into multiple genetic subspecies. It is true that people from different geographic locations look different—and we have known that these visible differences have a genetic basis since the first time distant tribes met and interbred. But that interbreeding, and our drive to explore and settle the world, have maintained genetic ties among human populations all the way back to the origin of our species.
As the evolutionary anthropologist Holly Dunsworth notes in her discussion of A Troublesome Inheritance, whether you choose to focus on the visible differences among human populations, or on those deep and ancient genetic ties, comes largely down to a matter of personal inclination. Knowing what I do of evolutionary genetics, and of how our judgments about the visible differences among human populations have shifted over time, I’m far more inclined to think that the social, economic, and cultural differences among human societies are products not of our genes, but of how we treat each other.
Wade’s inclinations are, quite obviously, different from mine. However, comparing Wade’s claims to the scientific work he cites, I find it hard to conclude that we are simply looking at the same data with different perspectives. Time and again, data that refutes his arguments is not only available and widely cited in the population genetics literature—it is often in the text of the papers listed in his endnotes.
By the way, Wade has responded to various criticisms. I would not have thought he could dig himself any deeper, but he succeeded.
Despite their confident assertions that I have misrepresented the science, which I’ve been writing about for years in a major newspaper, none of these authors has any standing in statistical genetics, the relevant discipline. Raff is a postdoctoral student in genetics and anthropology. Fuentes and Marks are both anthropologists who, to judge by their webpages, do little primary research. Most of their recent publications are reviews or essays, many of them about race. Their academic reputations, not exactly outsize to begin with, might shrink substantially if their view that race had no biological basis were to be widely repudiated. Both therefore have a strong personal interest (though neither thought it worth declaring to the reader) in attempting to trash my book.
Holy crap. Nicholas Wade is a journalist who has no standing in any field of biology, and his criticism is that those who have repudiated his book aren’t experts in the very narrow and specific subfield of biology that he has deemed the only one of importance? And that they’ve only published scholarly reviews in science journals, rather than in the primary literature? You know that publishing a tertiary summary in a mass-market newspaper would have far less credibility to scientists, right, especially with Wade’s penchant for getting the science wrong?
Getting a Ph.D. is only the start of a scientific career — scientists spend their whole lives learning and exploring new ideas (that’s why it’s a little weird to see people getting multiple Ph.D.s — it’s really not necessary. Once you’ve got one, you’ve got the tools to be a scholar.) My grad school advisor started out his career with a degree in immunology, and drifted towards neuroscience, and then development, and then genetics as his career progressed — it would be really weird to judge his work as just an immunologist.
Scientists get trained in thinking scientifically more than anything else — something that Nicholas Wade missed.